Ontario's Bill 138 passes second reading

'Compelling evidence' regulation of the HR profession is in the public interest, says MPP

Bill 138, an Act respecting the Human Resources Professionals Association, has passed second reading in Ontario’s legislature. (Read the full text from Hansard on second reading of the Bill).

The bill — which would regulate HR professionals who are members of the HRPA in a manner similar to accountants in Ontario — passed second reading on March 3 and was referred to the Standing Committee on General Government.

MPP David Zimmer, a Liberal, introduced the private members’ bill on Nov. 23, 2010, and he spoke in defense of the legislation during second reading. Ontario has a Liberal majority government.

Zimmer said there is “compelling evidence” regulation of the HR profession in Ontario is in the public interest.

"Compared to any other professional group in organizations, including accountants and so on, HR professionals have more access to confidential and very personal information about the employee — and the employer," he said. "They know who's on stress leave. They know who's battling an addiction and who's dealing with health issues. We count on their confidentiality to keep personal employee matters private."

Incompetent HR professionals can also do a lot of damage to an organization’s bottom line, he said.

"As professionals who oversee compensation, there's also a financial impact from an HR practitioner's choices. Given that salaries are usually the biggest line items in an organization's budget, given all the evidence that shows that HR practices have a big impact on an organization's bottom line, an incompetent or an unethical HR professional can do just as much, if not more, financial damage to an organization as a CA, a CGA, a CMA a lawyer or any other professional," he said.

Zimmer said the legislation had strong support from the business community, including the Retail Council of Canada and the Certified General Accountants (CGA) of Ontario. In fact, CGA CEO Doug Brooks wrote to the premier in support of Bill 138, he said.

Opposition to the bill

Cheri DiNovo, an NDP MPP, spoke out against passing the bill. At first blush, she said supporting the bill seemed like a no-brainer.

But then she expressed the concern she has heard from opponents of the bill that centred primarily on a lack of transparency and consultation.

"When you want to make changes, you want to get many stakeholders together, have informed discussion, be transparent, give everybody a chance to speak and then you move, not before," she said. "Clearly, it seems to me, from what I have received from constituents, that that hasn't happened here."

She said 1,000 members had petitioned against the bill, and that voice should be listened to — they aren’t asking the bill not be passed, but that it not be rushed and more time for discussion allowed, she said. (Zimmer disagreed with her on the numbers, saying the petition was signed by about 800 people and only 420 signatories were members of the HRPA — which has about 20,000 members.)

DiNovo expressed concern about the amount of controversy the bill has stirred up in the HR profession. While conceding the bill would likely pass second reading, she said it didn’t mean much — and pointed out there will be ample time to debate it further in committee.

"From what I've heard in my office, we need to hear both sides on this and we need to at least allow these voices to be heard," she said. "It's not our area of expertise. In a case like that, it's even more important to hear the experts from both sides weigh in."

But she also said that, as a private member’s bill, it may or may not get committee time and said the chances of it passing were pretty remote — unless it comes back as a government bill.

She urged opponents of the bill to write directly to the Premier to express their opposition.

In his closing comments, Zimmer pointed out that there had been consultation by the HRPA with its members, dating as far back as February 2008 and as recently as Feb. 18, 2011.

If the bill is passed, it will create one of the best employer-employee relationships in the world, he said.

"That 's good for Ontario, because that makes Ontario a good place for companies to set up shop and employ people," he said. "It will attract business. It will keep business here in Ontario. This is good for the economy of Ontario. We want to have the best employer-employee relationship model in the world."

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